top of page


It had taken his older brother at least a week to convince him to go.  Gabriel Buttons was your typical fourteen-year-old.  His time was divided between his phone and video games, which was also on the same device, so basically, he was snared by it.  Cole, who was in his senior year of high school, couldn’t be any more of a polar opposite to his little brother.

A typical outdoorsman, if he wasn’t out in open country surrounded by nature, he wasn’t happy.  Their summer was almost over and after his final year of school Cole was headed on a trip backpacking with friends in Alaska.  It annoyed Gabe that his brother was forcing him to “Disconnect for a weekend.”  Of course, his parents agreed that he should get out.  They told him, “Spend more time together, you only have one brother, you’ll need each other.”

Gabe felt different about that, but he wouldn’t win.  So here he was in his brother’s truck headed into a state park populated by mountains, trees, animals, and worst of all bugs.  “Come on bro, you’ll have fun.”  Cole chided him.

“Ya, oh so much fun, did ya bring a pen so I can play connect the dots with my bug bites?”  he didn’t intend to sound funny, yet Cole laughed heartily.

Gabe was so bored, being forced to leave his phone at home, only Cole was allowed to bring one “for emergencies,” and it was a flip phone.  Really who used them?  Watching the scenery flash by Gabe tried to imagine a video game.  Maybe someone was chasing them.  Maybe a first-person shooter.  Before he could let his imagination loose, Cole brought him back to reality. 


“I asked if you were hungry.  This is our last chance before we get to the forest.”

“Last chance for what?  We aren’t eating all weekend?”

“Don’t be an idiot Gabe, of course we’re going to eat, but we have to catch it first.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Nope, you’re going to learn to fish.”

“This weekend is getting better and better.”  He said sarcastically as he let out a frustrated huff of air.

He didn’t have to answer the question, Cole pulled into the small diner’s parking lot.  They ate lunch in relative silence, Gabe wasn’t in the mood to talk.  Anxiety was slowly but steadily rising in the pit of his stomach.  He didn’t want to admit that he was actually scared to be going out in the woods.  He was afraid of nature and embarrassingly the dark.  He also hated being alone.  He didn’t show it, but he didn’t want Cole to leave.  They shared a room, and he would miss him, but he would never admit it.

He didn’t know why really, but he refused to ever admit any of this.  Because of the worry that burrowed through him he didn’t have much of an appetite.  “Hey, are you that upset about this trip?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“If it bothers you that much, I’ll take you home.  I bet Jack or Pete will want to go.”

“No, we’re already so close.”

“Ok, well, we’ll just have them wrap it to go.  I want to get setup before dark.”

Once back on the road it was only about another hour before Gabe found himself traipsing through the forest.  He was hot, sweaty, and miserable.  He was regretting not going home now.  “How much further Cole?”

“Once we get to the lake, I’ll scout out a good place to make camp.”

“can we rest a little?”

“Um, ya sure Gabe, it’s still early enough.  Just remember we can’t stop for too long; it’ll be dark soon.”

The magic words were just evoked.  That was something Gabe dreaded.  Before Cole could unhook his backpack Gabe said, “You know what, I think I can make it.”

Cole looked annoyed.  “Are you sure?”

“Ya, let’s go.”  He tried to act more enthusiastic than he felt.

Just as Gabe was regretting his decision and he felt blisters forming on his feet they finally arrived at the lake.  The view as they pushed through the branches and brush that slapped and grabbed at them revealed a panorama of sparkling water and rolling fields.  The view was breathtaking, so vivid, Gabe was now realizing why his brother enjoyed coming out here.  Then as with all initial impressions, the trivial allure subsided as nature came back ambushing his senses.  Sounds, smells, and yes, the occasional mosquito bite brought reality crashing back.

At that point he also noticed he was alone.  Cole was halfway to the lake now, absentmindedly enjoying his surroundings.  Running after him he quickly caught up with his brother.  “What do you think Gabe?”  he talked as if he had always been next to him.

“About what?”

He saw Cole role his eyes.  “about the scenery, nature.”  He spread his hands indicating the environment.  “Everything.”

“It’s ok, I guess.  I’m tired are we almost there?”

“Ya, we’re at the lake, why don’t you sit by the water.  I’ll go into the woods to find a goof place to make camp.”

“Why do we have to be in the woods?”  Gabe really wasn’t happy about that prospect.

“The extra shelter.  If a storm came, the wind would blow on the tent, the trees add extra protection.”

“Wait there’ll be a storm?”

Cole laughed, “not that I’m aware, but it never hurts to be safe.”  He started to walk away.  “Just sit there and wait.  I’ll be back soon.”

Gabe watched his big brother wander off, soon lost within the trees.  The warm sun relaxed him.  looking around he saw how open the area was, it was strange, but he missed being in the forest.  He felt very exposed.  It was unnerving, he hoped Cole would come back soon.  Maybe he should have gone with him.  he mentally chided himself, it was daytime.  What could happen?

Something grabbed his shoulder, screaming he jumped away.  Tripping over a hidden rock he landed with a large splash in the lake.  Spitting and sputtering he surfaced to find Cole rolling on the ground laughing.  “What the hell?”

“Sorry bro, boy your jumpy.”  Cole said between laughs.

As Gabe trudged out of the water, he couldn’t help but laugh a little.  Even though he was soaked to the bone, he had to admit he did scare too easily.  He was working himself up.  Really, what could happen?  He wasn’t alone and Cole wouldn’t willingly put him in any danger.

They set up their camp site in a small open area not far from the lake.  As night descended upon them Gabe was thankful for the fire.  His clothes hung from branches to dry so he was forced to wrap himself in a sleeping bag.  It worked out though, Cole had done most of the work setting everything up and even fishing, he could just relax.

As Cole ate his meal, Gabe finished the last remnants of civilized food from the diner they had gone to.  It had dawned on him that without electronic devices there was nothing to do.  He was bored.  There was no real silence, the woods were teeming with life.  His thoughts got interrupted by a rustling bush. 

“What was that?”  he exclaimed.

“Nothing, just some animal lurking around.”

“Why, aren’t they scared of the fire?”

“Not really, relax will ya.”

That was easier said than done.  Shortly after dinner Cole crawled into the tent to sleep.  Gabe wasn’t far behind.  With the fire dowsed; darkness began to constrict him, it felt like it was trying to consume him.  sleep didn’t come easy, sounds of his surroundings kept him awake.  Cole softly snored next to him.  he hadn’t realized how much he hated his older brother until now.  This trip was such a bad idea.  How could he sleep like that?

Gabe woke suddenly, not sure why.  Something felt strange, unnaturally wrong.  He lay there still as a stone trying to reach out with his senses.  What was wrong?  He was sure something was there.  After an indiscernible amount of time Gabe braved a soft whisper.  “Cole.  Cole wake up.”

No response came from the darkness.  It was then he realized he not only didn’t get a response, but he couldn’t hear Cole’s breathing.  A heart gripping terror started to spread through him.  as quietly as he could he reached over, Cole was gone.  He tried to calm himself, maybe he was going to the bathroom.  He would be back soon.

Gabe wasn’t sure how long he lay there, but after a while he suspected that Cole wasn’t coming back.  Not knowing what to do, he spent the rest of the night paralyzed in fear alone.  When finally, the morning sun began illuminating the forest, birds were singing their praise to the morning, Gabe forced himself up.

Apprehensively leaving the tent he found the camp site just as it should be.  Nothing was torn or destroyed or misplaced.  After quickly dressing he sat near the remnants of the fire, self-pity worming its way through his mind and stomach.

He had no idea what to do, he was afraid to leave.  Cole could come back only to find him gone.  Then he remembered the plip phone, quickly searching, tearing through the backpacks.  The phone was gone too.  He was now fighting back hysteria.  What should he do?   Overwhelmed, he simply sat on the ground unable to hold back the tears that welled within him.

A soft persistent chirping sound kept attempting to invade his misery.  Looking up he saw a blurred reddish-brown object in a bush nearby.  Wiping his eyes, he now clearly saw a fox sitting there watching him.  even though it showed no aggression Gabe quickly scrambled backwards.  The sight of the beast adding to his mounting fear.

The fear passed as he watched the animal.  it simply sat there gazing at him, occasionally tilting its head as if curious.  The fox was no more than a foot and a half tall with deep reddish-brown fur.  Its bushy tail tapped a metronome beat.  Gabe was beginning to feel silly for reacting the way he had.  “what’re you looking at?”  he said as he got up. Moving to sit once again next to the remains of the campfire.

The fox finally stood, tentatively inching closer.  “I don’t have any food.  Just go away.”  The fox ignored Gabe.  As he slowly approached, his eyes locked on Gabe watching intently; nose twitching, catching every scent.

A quick flash caught his eye.  Following the sudden light, he saw some crumpled foil.  The same that Cole used to cook his fish.  Picking it up he found the remains of the meal.  Moving carefully, he opened the foil and spread out the rest of the food.  He laid it at arm’s length away on the ground.  “You can have it.  I’m not hungry.’  The fox only hesitated for a moment.

Sinking its teeth into the foil, he bolted back to the bush.  As he ate, licking his muzzle occasionally, he never took his eyes off Gabe.  After devouring every morsel in front of him he sat watching Gabe intently again.  “You ate it all, I’ve got no more.”

The fox just sat there accusingly, as if saying, I know there’s more.  “What should I do?  I mean you live out here.  I’m all alone, my big brother Cole is missing.”  The fox cocked its head.

“Like you would answer me.  I can’t believe I’m talking to you.”  As he was starting to feel depressed and alone, he noticed the fox begin to creep forward.  Very slowly.

Gabe didn’t know how to react.  He was afraid of the fact that this was a wild animal.  did foxes attack humans?  How dangerous were they?  He started looking around, planning to throw something to scare it off.  Then it did the most surprising thing.  It laid down in its belly placing its head on its paws like a dog.  He was overreacting a lot this weekend.

Was it trying to trick him?  he felt divided.  He wanted companionship, but his fears were smothering him.  as he was distracted by his indecision, he realized that the little creature was sneaky.  He belly crawled closer.  He was only a few feet away now.

Gabe bit his lip, taking a chance he reached out tentatively, holding his fingers mere inches from the fox’s twitching snout.  The animal leaned forward sniffing the offered digits.  He opened his mouth, Gabe cringed slightly at the sight of the little white needle-sharp teeth.  He was sure he was about to get bit.

However, some invisible barrier fell away, the fox licked his fingers then leaned in.  Gabe scratched him around his perky ears.  “Well, I guess your not so bad, huh?”  he realized how much better he felt being accepted by the small furry animal.

They sat there for a while with Gabe absentmindedly petting the fox.  “I wish you could talk, then maybe you could help me.”  He paused thinking.  “I think you need a name, something I can call you.”

Gabe scrutinized the fox, trying to figure out a good name. 

Henry. . . no.

Ralph. . . no.

Fido. . . absolutely not.  Wrong species, or was he?

The fox’s tail swished back and forth as if he was expecting a revelation from Gabe.  “I can’t think of anything.  I mean nothing fits.  I might as well call you Dar.”  He was surprised by the animal’s reaction propping himself on Gabe’s knee, so he stood on his hind legs, he almost looked like he was smiling.  “You like Dar?”

After sitting for a while longer Gabe was becoming more concerned, night was beginning to show itself.  Shadows were growing, darkness was reaching for him.  fear swelled in his chest threatening to overtake him.  “Well, Dar, what should I do?  It’s getting dark.”  He tried to hide his emotions; he didn’t understand why.  Dar was a fox.

It was at that point; the little animal suddenly ran off vanishing with a rustle of leaves.  Gabe began to panic but fortunately it quelled.  He saw the pointed snout of Dar poking out of the brush looking at him.  “You scared me, why did you run away?”

The fox looked over his shoulder.  Gave Gabe a quick glance, then ducked back beyond sight.  Was he trying to get him to follow him?  not wanting to be alone in the dark he got up trying to catch up.  Passing the shrub, he almost tripped over the beast.  It was sitting there.  As soon as Gabe emerged, it took off again but only at an easy trot, Gabe had no problem keeping up with him.

Even though Dar weaved his way deeper into the woods, occasionally stopping to make sure he was still being pursued, Gabe felt little apprehension.  He savored the fact that he had the fox there to keep him company.  Realization dawned on him that he always resisted having any pets.  For petty reasons, mostly his electronics.  He didn’t want them to be damaged.  He had heard stories.  Now he chided himself.  How could it be so bad? 

He suddenly stumbled, as he caught himself from falling, he was shaken from his revelry.  The shadows had claimed the ground.  Self-pity loomed over him.  he would never find Cole or get out of the woods.  Then a sharp yip grabbed his attention.  Looking around he saw a semi-hidden cave not far away.  Dar stood before it expectantly.

He approached hesitantly.  “What is it?  Something in there?” 

He thought to himself.  I hope not.

Then when apparently the fox thought him close enough, he dashed in, quickly melding into the shadows.  Gabe stood there.  He saw the opening as a yawning mouth, beckoning him to enter so it could swallow him, sending him to a bottomless depth he was sure never to return from.

As he stood there contemplating the void, a loud clap of thunder boomed, sounding as if right next to him.  as if it heralded an impending fate, it suddenly down poured.  A heavy wall of water fell on him, buckling his knees.  Without any further thought he retreated to the cave seeking shelter.  Instead of the cave being his focus the sudden storm claimed that right.

Lightning shot across the sky, steel grey clouds, heavy with shadows dominated any view the rain didn’t distort.  The pounding roar of falling water accompanied by occasional cracks of thunder.  Gabe couldn’t believe his misfortune.  The skies opened up insisting he enter the cave.  Giving him no alternatives but to face the unknown.  So, he could wander the cave or fight the oppressive weather.

It was then that he steeled himself, looking into the cave’s depths.  To his surprise the darkness yielded to his sight.  He could make out some details, not many but some.  As he carefully moved beyond the cave’s threshold, he found the fox; it stood a few feet away, sitting, watching him. 

“Did you know I was going to get soaked?”  he felt cold, the wet clothes clinging to him tightly.

It was then something strange caught his attention.  The walls and ceiling were cloaked in shadows, there was light, however.  It was subtle but not dim enough to relent to the darkness.  Where was the light coming from?   Looking around he was shocked to find sunlight streaming into the mouth of the cave.  Where was the storm?  At the brink of leaving the cave the storm began to surge once again.  What was happening?

Something was forcing him to be in the cave.  Still sitting statue still, the fox waited patiently.  “Do you know what’s going on?”

As if in response the fox casually stood and sauntered deeper into the cave.  Like before he had a strong sense of not wanting to be left behind.  He felt tethered to the animal, pulling him in its wake.  As he trudged along, he gazed at his surroundings.  The diminished light gave enough illumination to allow him to discern the rocky walls, the path wide enough that he could spread his arms, fingertips just barely brushing the rough stone.  There was no moisture, nothing here filled his preconceived notion of a cave.

It was strange, no bats or cold breezes; no slick wet spots or running water on the walls.  As Gabe penetrated deeper the environment remained the same.  Either this tunnel ran forever, never deviating or he was stuck in a time loop.  Even Dar’s actions seemed to remain static.  Just as boredom began to overtake curiosity and fear, Dar yelped.  Gabe nearly stepped on him.

“Hey why’d you stop?”


Shock slapped Gabe in the face, ahead of him stood Cole, partially obscured by shadow.  He looked distressed, upset at something, almost in pain.

“Cole?  Where have you been?”

“I-I don’t know, I woke up in this place.  Help me.”

Something nagged at Gabe’s consciousness.  Something wasn’t right.  “Why didn’t you come back?”

“I tried.”

“What do you mean you tried?” 

It was at this point that Gabe noticed Dar growling.  His fur was raised, tail pointing straight out.  Something was spooking him.  at first the answer eluded Gabe then he saw the slow creeping darkness.  The shadow was enveloping Cole.  It was slow enough to seem like a trick of light.  Then suddenly, like a crashing wave, the shadows swallowed Cole.  He tried to scream for help, but it was like a brisk breeze, with no real substance to the sound.

But the toiling darkness wasn’t done yet.  Gabe took precious time frozen in disbelief at what his eyes told him.  where his brother stood now nothing of substance existed.  Only an inky void.  Then a panicked squeal hit him.  the shadow had washed over to them like an incoming tide.  Dar was now tangled within the tendrils of darkness.  Tentacles had formed wrapping the small animal who struggled fiercely.

“No!”  Gabe was about to rush forward but in one merciless swallow Dar was engulfed, nothing but shadow existed.  The strange tendrils no longer there, having melted into the rest of the foreboding nothingness.

He thought he saw it moving toward him.  turning and running blindly, he cried and yelled incoherently back to the mouth of the cave.  It was gone, Gabe bounced off a solid wall.  His face and chest hurt from the impact, winded he glanced at the wall.  Panic overcoming him.  where a tunnel once spread now only solid stone.

It took him a moment to recover from his impact.  He had collided with such force it jarred his mind stunning his thoughts.  He sat up moaning.  Reaching up he palmed his forehead, a bump was beginning to grow; fortunately, his head remained dry, no blood.

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there, nor did he really care.  Complete terror gripped his body.  He couldn’t believe what happened to Cole and Dar.  His eyes were saucers as he jerkily looked around.  He hadn’t imagined it.  the long tunnel was gone.  He was trapped in a large room now.  Shadows lingered everywhere except when occasionally broken by pools of light that emanated from some unknown source.  He felt grateful for landing in one.

It seemed some unknown grace was watching over him, giving him a small sanctuary to gather his thoughts and more importantly his sanity.  What was happening?  How could shadows engulf living things like that?  He had read something once, probably a philosopher.  He said the soul was part of your essence, yet even that needed to stretch beyond its confines.  If the eyes were the windows of the soul, the shadow was its garden.

It was strange that out of any random thought he could have, that a mundane reference like that could occur.  Maybe he was really going crazy.  Looking around the shadows seemed to pulse, attempting to push forward ye the light held it back.

“Help me Gabe.”  A sudden harsh whisper in the air.  It carried no echo, had he imagined it?  a sharp yelp pierced the silent interlude.

Standing unsteadily Gabe tried to get his bearings.  Small pools of light littered the black ocean like small islands of hope.  Sudden movement at one circular pool of light caught his attention, a hand penetrated the darkness exposing itself to the light.  But then quickly dragged away.  A fleeting glimpse.  Tears began to flow freely.  Gabe felt so helpless, paralyzed by the horror before him, how long until it claimed him as well?

It was then during his lowest moment of despair that the blackness slowly shifted to a dark grey, all the inky dark coalescing into coherent form.  A jagged shape formed from the shadows.  It had no solid substance, just form.  It didn’t attack, instead it seemed to slide sideways revealing a tunnel.  A way out.  The greyish shadows like smoke, spread creating a path leading to the tunnel.

Then like whisps of smoke two forms struggled next to the dark fiend.  Gabe somehow understood, he could leave but Cole ands Dar were remaining.  Living in a digital world allowed him an escape from facing reality.  That same form of escape remained open.  He was torn between the visage of his tormented brother and new friend and the possibility of leaving this nightmare. 

A feeling he hadn’t realized existed within himself.  He couldn’t leave them; his mind was actually working out a solution to this problem.  without the distractions of the digital world, basic human skills whittled themselves into his mind from the depths of his subconscious.

A very subtle twinkle bloomed off to his side, he gazed around, taking in his environment.  It was then he noticed that the pools of light were created from small crystal-like protrusions throughout the cavern.  Illumination came from small fissures in the ceiling.  They resembled sheets of light draping like streams attached to the twinkling stones.

Then that phrase came to him again.  Shadows are the garden.  A manifestation of a being’s essence.  As he mulled this over, he watched the swirling milky darkness that represented his older brother and the fox.  Then looking down he noticed for the first time his shadow was a small pool surrounding his feet within the island of illumination.  If he stepped off, he was sure he would be lost.

He had to try something though.  He couldn’t leave them to whatever fate the fiend had in store for them.  He was about to step onto the path, relying on last-minute inspiration.  In the darkness, obscured by shadows was a stone, a crystal that had to light to reflect.  Gabe picked it up.  Once in the beam of light it twinkled to life.

The scattered beams of light penetrated the depths of the shadow fiend.  A barely audible whisper of a scream wafted throughout the cavern.  Gabe saw the dark form shudder and pulse.  He felt its anger.  He should have been scared but instead he held firm, a deep bravery he never suspected he had.  Only in the characters of the games he played did he see this kind of heroic gesture.

More knowledge seeped into his mind.  Fissures were weak points in rock.  Having never thrown a ball before, Gabe launched the stone at one of the beams of light.  It struck home, smacking into a crack.  An island winked out of existence.  The fiend pulsed forward, victory was its prize, yet Gabe didn’t flinch.  A small smirk creased his lips.  Low, barely discernable rumbles vibrated throughout the cavern.

Then almost as if timed on purpose just as the shadow fiend crossed the span between them, the rock fell free along with more of the fissure.  Light poured in flooding the cavern.  In a blink all darkness had been expelled.  Standing where the smokey shadows had once coalesced Cole and Dar, were their solid real bodies.  Gabe had overcome the monster that gripped him.

Suddenly the cave fell away, crumbling to rubble around him.  he felt no fear as it disintegrated, the particles vanished, light engulfed him as the structure disappeared.

“Hey Gabe.”

His eyes flew open.  He was lying in the tent; the sun’s rays were glowing beyond the tent’s thin walls.  Cole knelt next to him.  “About time you woke up sleepy head.  Thought you were going to sleep all day.”

“Wait, what are you doing here?  Where’s the cave?”

Cole looked at him curiously.  “What are you talking about?  I’ve been here all night.’

Gabe was thoroughly confused.  Had that all been a dream?  It couldn’t have been, it felt so real, so vivid.  All through breakfast, and then during their hike Gabe tried to figure out what happened.  “Hey Gabe, look at this.”

Cole was standing at the mouth of a cave.  It was then he saw the faint weather warn drawing of a fox near the entrance.  Gently rubbing the drawing, Gabe smiled.  Whether a dream, a vision, or a hallucination, this little animal guided him out of his personal darkness; overcoming a demon that held him prisoner. 

“Thank you, Dar.”  Gabe whispered.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing, race you to the lake.”

Gabe didn’t wait for a response; he took off to enjoy the remainder of their weekend.

bottom of page